Welcome to the 2021 Mini Sustainable Swap Challenge presented by Green Eco Dream!
Last year, we did a full Swap Challenge that was 50 weeks (!!) long and I received quite a few questions at the beginning of this year asking if I was doing another swap challenge.
While it was too much to do another 50-week challenge, I did want to offer some sort of swap challenge, especially for those getting started on their eco lifestyle journey or for anyone who may be looking for a reset (because let’s be honest, we could all use a reset after this past year and a half)!
So, I’m super excited to be launching this 7-Day Mini Sustainable Swap Challenge.
The goal of this mini swap challenge is to create an approachable way to get into low-waste living and so I will be breaking everything down into digestible pieces, organizing it in a streamlined way, and providing plenty of tips & tricks along the way.
You can either take a look at all 7 days of the Mini Sustainable Swap Challenge below or sign up to receive 1 swap per day in your inbox!
Before we get started, here are some answers to some potential questions you may have:
Do I have to follow the schedule for the swap challenge?
No! Feel free to read through and implement the steps of this challenge at a pace you are comfortable with.
You can either commit to one week of learning every single day OR decide to take it a bit slower, depending on your schedule, and do one swap each week, making it a 7-week challenge.
There’s no right or wrong here – it’s all about what makes sense with your lifestyle.
What does this swap challenge include?
We are focusing mostly on sustainable swaps in three areas: the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room.
These are areas where a lot of waste happens, where many indoor toxins can be emitted..
and also where there is a lot of room for impact.
What if something in this swap challenge doesn’t work for me?
Don’t worry about it! You definitely do not have to take every single step right now to participate in this challenge.
Everyone has different needs, lifestyles, and budgets, so if there is something that is not possible for you to do for whatever reason, just skip it and move on to the next one. This is about progress not perfection.
Also, you can save your emails or bookmark this page so that you can reference the swap ideas later if it’s too much, either financially or time-wise.
How do I join this swap challenge?
You can either sign-up to receive the email version of the swap challenge (1 swap each day for 7 days straight) or just scroll down to check out the swaps.
All right, now let’s get into the Mini Swap Challenge!
This challenge was kindly sponsored by Green Eco Dream, a sustainable low-waste online store with a variety of plastic-free home and personal care products that are non-toxic, reusable, compostable, organic, recycled, and/or vegan. They are also a member of 1% For the Planet and a Green America Certified Business.
PRE-CHALLENGE PREP: MINDSET
Before we get into any zero waste and eco-minded swaps, let’s talk about the mindset behind a conscious lifestyle.
One visualization that helps a lot I think with conscious consumerism and sustainable living is the “Buyerarchy of Needs.”
This was a graphic created by Sarah Lazarovic that shows us how to approach sustainable fashion, but I think it applies well here, too. So, I’ve created a simplified version of it.
So, the first step is to use what you have! Let’s take the example of a plastic shampoo bottle. Although you may want to switch to plastic-free shampoo the next time you need it, it’s best to use up what you have since it was already purchased anyway and will have to go somewhere if you don’t use it (likely down the drain).
And then the next step is to see if there is something you could borrow (this is especially relevant if you only need a specific tool for a project or something), find secondhand (it’s really easy to find glass jars secondhand), or make yourself (if you like DIYs.. though I know this is not for everyone and not possible with everyone’s schedules).
Once you’re out of what you have and borrowing, thrifting, and making aren’t options, then look for *high quality* new products.
As zero waste becomes more popular “sustainable swaps” are showing up everywhere! And while this growth in awareness is great, there are some downsides: like the flood of low-quality cheaply made “swaps” that are not too much better than their single-use or conventional counterparts.
It can be quite difficult to know what to trust, honestly.
That’s why I steer clear of behemoths like Amazon that sell literally everything and have no vetting process.
I choose to purchase any sustainable swaps or products from trustworthy sustainability-minded small businesses who really care about and stand behind each product they sell.
Something really useful — this is especially great for beginners but I think everyone appreciates this — is to find reliable retailers that curate and vet brands for you.
Retailers that minimize your own time researching who vet for brands/manufacturers that prioritize natural ingredients, durability, and sustainability throughout their supply chains.
So, that’s why I’m excited to partner with Green Eco Dream for this swap challenge. They carry really high quality products in each of the areas for the swap challenge and of course, make it simpler to purchase these products all in one place instead of going around 10 different websites!
To sum up this (pre)step, a low-waste mindset is about:
- Using what we have first
- Seeing if we can find what we need secondhand or if we can make it ourselves (or if it’s something we need temporarily, checking if we can borrow/rent it)
- And then if these options aren’t possible, we can look for quality new products that will last.
DAY 1: BASICS
Okay, so now that we have the mindset established, let’s chat about basic or ‘beginner’ zero waste swaps. These are swaps for things you probably use regularly!
1) Reusable Tote Bags & Produce Bags
The amount of plastic bags used just one time for carrying groceries in the U.S. makes me shudder! But there is actually a very easy swap for this.
Simply bring in your own tote bags and produce bags to the grocery store (or any store for that matter). Bag your produce in produce bags instead of the single-use ones they provide and then at check-out, either bag your items yourself in your tote bags or ask the cashier to use the bags you brought instead of their plastic ones.
Some stores even offer discounts if you bring in your own bag!
So, while this swap is simple in theory, the biggest hurdle with this swap is remembering to bring in your bags. Here are some tips:
- Put your bags on a hook on your door, in your car, or wherever you can that is visible on your way to the store
- Keep a small bag or two in your purse or backpack if you carry one around
- Add “bring bags” to your grocery list or any other shopping list you make
Reusable bags to check out:
- Reusable Market Bag Set – 4 Piece: This set contains 1 market bag and 3 produce bags all made from recycled plastic! (pictured)
- Eco Bags Organic Cotton Mesh Produce Bag: This package contains 3 produce bags made from GOTS-certified organic cotton.
- Use what you’ve got. Take a look through your space to see if you have any tote bags you can bring in as well!
2) Dish Cloths
Another single-use product that’s very easy to swap out? Paper towels.
The average American family uses two rolls of paper towels per week, which is a crazy amount of waste and money, too! At $14 for an 8-pack of paper towels, you may be spending up to $182 per year.
The swap for paper towels is regular dishcloths and/or Swedish dishcloths.
Swedish dishcloths are ultra absorbent and are also washable and reusable for hundreds of uses. They are also typically compostable at the end of their life. Here are some to check out:
Dishcloths are also great to have on hand, especially for drying dishes or your hands in the kitchen sink.
You may already have some on hand, or perhaps you have some old clothes/textiles that could be cut up and made into rags. If you’d like to purchase dishcloths, here are a couple of great eco-minded options:
- Full Circle Home Absorbent Cleaning Cloth: This dishcloth is made from 95% post-production recycled fibers and is designed to soap up spills and messes over and over again.
- Plant-Dyed Dish Towel: Another towel from Full Circle Home, this one is made from organic cotton and colored with plants! (pictured)
3) Reusable Water Bottles
We couldn’t have a day about basics without talking about water bottles!
Reusable water bottles are another swap that’s relatively simple (if you have access to clean water through your tap) but a bit more difficult in practice since you have to remember them.
[If you do need a filter for your tap water, check out these options reviewed by Wirecutter.]
As with anything, this swap does get easier over time and will become a habit! Below are a couple of high quality options.
I highly recommend getting stainless steel because it’s an incredibly durable material that will be able to withstand plenty of drops and dishwasher cycles!
Plus it’s insulating — this bottle will keep your drink cool for 24 hours or hot for 12 hours.
Or, if you like a bit of flavor in your water, check out this Bamboo Infuser Bottle (the inner wall is stainless steel).
DAY 2: FOOD
After covering the basics, another big area we have to talk about is FOOD.
There is a lot to talk about when it comes to sourcing food sustainably (check out this blog post for tips on finding food locally, sustainably, and in season here), but this day’s swap focuses on food waste.
About 108 billion pounds of food goes to waste in the United States alone every single year.
While much waste can be attributed to agricultural waste and grocery store waste, there’s also a shocking amount wasted by households. A study found that the majority (two thirds) of American households waste between 20-50% of their food. Yikes.
How can we reduce this? Below are some tips.
Ways to Reduce Food Waste
- Have a “use it up” week each month dedicated to getting creative in your kitchen with the food you’ve got!
- Try to roughly plan out meals as much as possible before going to the grocery store.
- Be honest about what you actually will eat! Sometimes, we can get swept up in sales or “bulk discounts”, but it’s not a deal if you won’t eat it.
- Get creative with food “on the edge”. Make veggie stock with almost-bad vegetables, make banana bread with overripe bananas, make a compote with fruits that are on their last day, make croutons with stale bread, freeze food when you have too much of something… You get the idea! There are plenty of creative ideas on the internet — I love searching for recipes on Pinterest.
- Use proper storage methods! I love this Proper Produce Storage guide from Closed Loop Cooking.
And then of course, as the phrase goes “waste isn’t waste until you waste it”, so excess food that you can’t eat or goes bad isn’t really “waste” if you compost it! Check out this beginner compost guide from NRDC for tons of tips on getting started with composting.
Litterless also has a fantastic state-by-state guide with where to send your compost near you.
Now, let’s talk a bit more about food storage containers! Below are my favorite options.
Zero Waste Food Storage Options:
1) Reusing jars
Simply reuse the jars you buy your sauce, nut butter, pickles or anything else in! To remove the labels, soak the jars in warm (optionally soapy) water.
If there’s still sticky residue, create a mixture of baking soda and cooking oil (1:1 ratio), apply to the gluey parts and let sit for a while (15 minutes to 1 hour depending on how bad it is!) before rinsing off.
2) Glass containers
In addition to jars, glass containers are quite useful, especially for leftovers! Go with something durable and shatter-proof like Pyrex. You may be able to find these used from your local thrift store or Buy Nothing group.
3) Stasher Bags
These are my absolute favorite storage containers! The reusable dishwasher-safe and food-grade silicone bags from Stasher replace single-use plastic baggies. In addition to being reusable, Stasher bags have the added benefit of being microwave, oven- and boiling water-safe (up to 400F). And, once they’ve reached their end of life, Stasher has a take back repurposing program to ensure nothing goes to waste! I suggest starting with the bundle if you don’t have any yet.
For an option that’s safer to heat and wash than plastic but lighter than glass, stainless steel is a great option!
The ones from U Konserve are perfect for packing lunches and snacks to go, but can also be used for storing leftovers.
These are my go-tos when I need some flexible storage for items like bread loaves and cut-up produce (I often use it for halved avocados and lemons) or to use as make-shift lids for bowls and baking dishes.
Both versions are compostable!
DAY 3: CLEANING
Cleaning products can often be full of toxic chemicals and lead to excess waste with all of that plastic packaging. But there’s a better way to clean!
Below is a list of swaps for some commonly used items.
Remember that you don’t have to make ALL of these swaps at once — you can bookmark this resource and keep it on hand as you slowly make these shifts.
And also, it’s ideal if you can use up the products you have first, or find a new home for them (perhaps a friend, neighbor, or family member) so that you’re not tossing those products out. Since, of course, that’s not so low waste anymore!
1) Cleaning Products
→ DIYS. Say goodbye to tons of packaging + questionable ingredients by just making your own cleaning products! A lot of cleaning DIYs are super easy. Wellness Mama has an incredible guide on how to make your own cleaners for everything from all-purpose cleaner to glass cleaner.
→ For the bottles, you can reuse spray bottles you have around your home or if you need one, check out this refillable glass spray bottle.
Single-Use Paper Towels → Recycled Microfiber All-Purpose Cloths: We talked about paper towel swaps on Day 1, but for cleaning, reusable and versatile microfiber cloths are useful to have on hand!
→ Old rags. If you have some old bed sheets or clothes that are in poor condition and can’t be resold, cut them up and use them as rags for cleaning!
Plastic Sponges → Loofah Dish Sponge 3-Pack: Skip the synthetics and go for an all-natural sponge made from loofah and cellulose. These sponges are compostable at their end-of-life.
Single-Use Synthetic Gloves → Fair Trade Latex Gloves: These reusable cleaning gloves are made from Fair Trade FSC-Certified Natural Rubber and are lightly dusted with cotton. They’re backyard-compostable as well.
6) Dish Soap
Plastic-Bottled Dish Soap → Solid Dish Soap Bar: Go package-free with a non-toxic palm-free solid dish soap bar. You can either rub your dish brush on the bar (that’s the way I like to do it) or cut off a small piece of the bar and dissolve it in hot water to turn it into a liquid soap.
7) Dishwasher Detergent
Plastic Packaged Detergent → Dishwasher Powder in Aluminum Jar: This powder from Lovett Sundries is just four simple non-toxic ingredients and comes in a reusable and recyclable aluminum jar!
If you need a few items at once, I recommend going for the kits because you can save a bit of money on them.
→ Dish Cleaning Kit: This kit features a loofah dish sponge 3-pack, solid dish soap, bamboo dish brush, and bamboo soap dish. The perfect set for hand-washing dishes.
→ Spring Cleaning Kit: This set includes a refillable glass spray bottle, microfiber duster, and dusting cloths.
DAY 4: BODYCARE
You may have heard that our skin is our largest organ, so it’s essential to take good care of what we’re putting on it!
Here are some non-toxic and low-waste alternatives to conventional body care products.
1) Body Wash
Plastic Packaged Liquid Soap → Corvus Botanicals Soap Bar: Go plastic-free with these palm-free and toxin-free soap bars. They ship in recycled and recyclable packaging as well. (pictured)
→ Refillable Body Wash: If you prefer liquid soap, Plaine Products has a great refillable body wash that comes in returnable aluminum containers. When you’re almost done with the body wash you can just order a refill and get a free return label so that your aluminum containers can be washed and reused.
2) Body Lotion
Plastic-Packaged Lotion → Body Cream Jar: This ultra-clean body cream is certified organic, vegan, and cruelty-free. It’s made with soothing natural ingredients including extract from leftover date seeds!
3) Plastic Packaged Scrubs with Synthetics
Plastic Packaged Scrub with Synthetics → Salt Body Scrub: This scrub is made with 4-5 simple, pure ingredients and comes in a recyclable glass jar and aluminum lid.
Plastic Packaged Deodorant → Deodorant in a Compostable or Recyclable Container
*A note on deodorants! It may take a few tries to find the right natural deodorant for you! Some people for instance like using deodorant with baking soda while for others, it may irritate their skin.
→ Habitat Botanicals Deodorant: This is a plastic-free aluminum-free deodorant that comes in compostable packaging. (pictured)
→ SIRIUS Deodorant Cream: This all-natural aluminum-free deodorant is packaged in a reusable and recyclable glass jar!
→ EARTH Deodorant Cream: Great for sensitive skin, this deodorant is free of ingredients like aluminium as well as baking soda, which can cause irritation for some people. This cream is also packaged in a glass jar.
Disposable Plastic Razors → Metal Safety Razor: This is one of my favorite low waste swaps! Not only does using a metal safety razor cut down on the plastic waste from plastic razors, but you can save a ton of money by not having to buy razor blades all the time! Plus you can get a closer, smoother shave with safety razors.
There is a bit of a learning curve with safety razors at first, and most guides online focus on face-shaving so I created a whole guide with tips and tricks here for shaving underarms, legs, etc. with safety razors.
6) Plastic Bottled Shaving Cream
→ Conditioner Bar: One of my top tips for using safety razors is to always use shaving soap and never shave dry! You can always get a shaving cream bar, but using conditioner works quite well.
DAY 5: HAIR CARE
Similar to body care, hair products are often packaged in single-use plastic and come with plenty of proven and potentially harmful chemicals…
But there’s a low-waste, eco-friendly + non-toxic swap for really virtually everything now!
Something to note is that some products (like shampoo bars) are ultra-concentrated so even if the size is much smaller for the price than conventional products, you can likely still get as many (or more!) uses out of them.
I do have an entire in-depth guide to hair care, but below is a shortened version!
1) Shampoo and Conditioner
Plastic Bottles → Shampoo & Conditioner Bars: This is another one of my favorite swaps! Bars are lightweight and compact (since they do not contain water like shampoo bottles do), making them great for travel and for small showers. And of course, they’re plastic free! Here are some brands to check out:
→ OR Refillable Shampoo & Conditioner: This set from Plaine Products includes aluminum bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and hair care repair, all of which can be returned to be refilled. You can also just get the shampoo or conditioner
2) Dry Shampoo
Dry Shampoo Aerosol Can → Dry Shampoo Powder: A safer and more eco-minded alternative to aerosol spray dry shampoo is Lumi Basics simple dry shampoo powder that comes in a compostable package.
3) Hair Brush
Plastic Hair Brush → Bamboo Hair Brush: an all-natural alternative for the next time you need a hair brush.
4) Hair Accessories
Synthetic Hair Ties → Organic Cotton Scrunchies and Hair Ties: These hair accessories are made from GOTS-certified and Fair Trade organic cotton and Fair Trade natural rubber and are ethically made in Fair Trade certified factories.
These cover the basics, but you can check out the FULL list of low-waste hair care for more.
DAY 6: HYGIENE & PERSONAL CARE
We talked a lot about bathroom-related products in Day 4 (Bodycare) and Day 5 (Hair Care), and Day 6 continues this theme with another category: hygiene and personal care.
1) Toilet Paper
One huge source of waste that we have to talk about is toilet paper! The average person in the U.S. uses 141 rolls of toilet paper every single year — that’s almost 1 roll every other day. (Source: NRDC) This has led to over 15 million trees being cut down every year just to satisfy American demand for toilet paper. (Source: Scientific American)
While it may seem odd to talk about “swaps” for toilet paper, hear me out! We can:
→ Reduce Toilet Paper Use by using bidets (essentially like sinks for your toilet) like the TUSHY Bidet or Bio Bidet. (Check out this post for more on how to install and use a bidet attachment.)
→ Choose More Responsible Toilet Paper. Opt for recycled paper or bamboo toilet paper instead of virgin tree toilet paper to reduce the crazy number of trees cut down for toilet paper!
There are quite a few brands to choose from, so this guide has much more on toilet paper!
2) Period Products
And for anyone that menstruates, you probably also have experienced the amount of WASTE that period products generate as well.
It was even estimated by National Geographic that the average menstruating individual uses 5-15 thousand pads and tampons in their lifetime.
Here are some low-waste options:
→ Saalt Menstrual Cup: This is a great zero waste alternative to tampons! Menstrual cups can also be worn up to 12 hours (instead of the recommended 8 for tampons), have more capacity than tampons, and have a number of other benefits.
Of the brands I’ve tried thus far, I’ve found Saalt to be the most comfortable! (Be sure to check the details to see which size — small or regular — would work best for you.)
→ GladRags Washable Pads: If you prefer pads or need a backup for the menstrual cup, you can skip the expensive, single-use plastic-ridden pads (that may contain toxic chemicals) and use organic cotton washable pads instead.
I use GladRags and really like this brand’s products! They have various levels of pad absorbency from panty liner to night pad.
→ Period Underwear. Another zero waste period product option is period underwear, which is underwear that has built-in absorbance. I personally really like using period underwear as a backup to the menstrual cup for heavier flow days.
3) Oral Hygiene
The final aspect of today’s swap on personal care is oral care, which is another category typically filled with plastic products.
Plastic Toothbrush → Bamboo toothbrush: this Brush With Bamboo toothbrush has a bamboo handle and 100% Castor Bean Oil and USDA Certified 100% bio-based bristles. The handle is commercially compostable at the end of its useful life.
Plastic Toothpaste Tube → Recyclable Toothpaste: David’s Toothpaste is all-natural, non-toxic (it’s EWG verified, the best rating from the Environmental Working Group), and comes in a recyclable metal tube. (pictured)
→ Or Natural Toothpaste from Georganics that comes in a recyclable glass jar and metal lid.
DAY 7: CLOTHES AND LAUNDRY
We’re almost at the end of the challenge! Day 7 is all about clothing and laundry.
I’ve dedicated a lot of my site to talking about sustainable fashion so I won’t go too much into that.
This day’s content, though, will focus on one aspect of sustainable fashion: eco-conscious laundry. Here are some of my tips.
Eco-Friendly Laundry Tips
- Wash Less: Save water and energy (not to mention time!) by simply washing less. Here are some tips for getting rid of smells without washing your clothes.
- Wash on Cold: Most of the energy used by a washing machine goes to heating the water, so choosing the cold or eco setting on your washer is a great more sustainable choice.
- Air Dry: Another switch to make that can save a lot of money + energy and keep your clothes lasting longer is air drying them instead of machine drying them. I use a collapsible drying rack, but you could also line-dry outside if you can.
- Dryer Balls: If and when you do use a machine dryer, a zero waste alternative to dryer sheets is wool dryer balls. These dryer balls are made from 100% organic and certified cruelty-free New Zealand wool.
- Use Eco-Friendly Laundry Powder: This zero waste laundry powder from Bestowed Essentials is an alternative to plastic bottles of laundry detergent. It ships plastic free and is packaged in a compostable bag.
- OR Use TruEarth Laundry Detergent Strips: These concentrated strips from Tru Earth are another low waste alternative to plastic laundry detergent bottles. The formula is readily biodegradable and ships in plastic-free, recyclable or compostable paper packaging. (pictured)
And, that’s it! You made it through the challenge! 7 days packed with sustainable low waste swaps for a more eco-conscious lifestyle.
Remember that one of the most important mindsets of an eco lifestyle is “fewer, better”. Buying less, and being super intentional about what we choose to buy if we can.
With that, there is certainly privilege in living a low-waste lifestyle in terms of the up-front costs for zero waste swap investments and in terms of the extra time it may take to do some of these changes.
So, do what you can and take it slow!
And, while it’s great to encourage others to make eco-friendly choices (especially by leading by example) it’s important to not judge others. Let’s make the low waste space as inclusive and positive as possible! 🙂
Finally, it’s important to also push for system changes like Extended Producer Responsibility so that corporations take responsibility for the waste they’re creating and plastic pollution regulation so that the companies producing and profiting off of plastic are also the ones paying to clean it up and establish recycling infrastructure.
If you’re based in the U.S. I recommend looking into the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act and California’s Extended Producer Responsibility Proposal.